In 1996, the inclusion of a soundtrack by Nine Inch Nails in the computer game Quake made it clear to anyone watching that entertainment categories had blurred and that gaming's importance as a vehicle for music was just beginning. The blood-splattered world of Quake (like Doom before it) was key in the drive toward a personal cinematic experience--a holy grail to which many of the best video games aspire. A crucial element for a convincing, compelling experience is sound, and the era of the celebrity sound designer for games now overlaps neatly with the fame of celebrity producers.
As a member of Nine Inch Nails, Chris Vrenna was a part of the Quake experience, and it obviously made a deep impression on him. After a split with NIN and its leader, Trent Reznor, Vrenna quickly picked up the ball and began producing albums and remixes for U2, Weezer, P.O.D., and others. With his partner, Clint Walsh, Vrenna produced the music for Doom 3, the summer's--and maybe even the year's--most anticipated game.
Vrenna's personal enthusiasm for games, as well as his passion for darker moods, has built demand for his sound design in games. In fact, he's currently working on Midway, a naval real-time strategy game, and Tabula Rasa, a massively multiplayer online game. His earlier score for the video game American McGee's Alice earned praise for its unique vision and was also released as a CD.
Tweaker, Vrenna's main band, which continues making music in his own moody industrial vein, has just returned from a large US tour where it opened shows for industrial legend Skinny Puppy.
MP3.com's John Alderman spoke to Vrenna from his studio in Los Angeles on the day of Doom 3's release. An excerpt of that interview follows. Go to GameSpot sister site MP3.com for the full text.
MP3.com: It's a big day today.
Chris Vrenna: Oh, that's right. Doom 3 is released today. No wonder things are quiet. Everyone who owns a PC is busy.
MP3.com: The audio component of Doom 3 is rather minimal. What kind of things did you actually do for the new game?
CV: I did a couple of different things. Early on, I did what I call "little musical sound design," [which includes] just little things, because, at the time, id wasn't doing a traditional scored-type thing. That got me to play the game, which was just awesome. Then they came back and asked me and Clint [Walsh] to do some more things, including the theme.
I just really like those guys a lot.
MP3.com: How was this different from the work on Quake?
CV: Well, firstly, I'm not a Nail anymore. Aside from that, Quake was more of a full project. What we're working on this time is much more limited.
MP3.com: Do you find that working on a game is different from working on a film or a piece of music that's meant to be the focus of attention?
CV: There are all these rules, and it's a team effort. I find the teamwork fun, whether you're producing a record for somebody or doing something for a movie or for a game. There are developers and producers, and you are hired by them.
MP3.com: You seem to be pretty good with team efforts.
CV: I just like to be involved with cool projects. Thankfully, I have been involved with really cool stuff, and, for me, it's really flattering when someone wants to work with me. Every situation is different, and id is as good as they are because they really have a clear vision of what they want. Every team is different. That's the main thing--being able to blend from team to team.
[This is] the only [soundtrack] that we've released as an album. Sometimes we post them up on tweaker.net, but game-score albums will become more relevant as games become bigger and bigger. For Doom, we're going to make a little collectible 7-inch--and I don't even own anything that plays vinyl.
MP3.com: You're a big gamer yourself. What are some of your favorites?
CV: The first Doom. I've just checked out the game that's gonna beat Madden this year--ESPN 2K5. It's really good, and it's only 20 bucks. I tend to be more of a console gamer, because I tend to be in the studio all day, sitting in front of a computer screen. So when I'm done in there, I like to sit in front of the TV set.